Maybe — and this is a risky thing to write — Newt Gingrich was right. Speaking in Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 11, in one of the early Republican presidential debates, the former House speaker from Georgia said:
"I think this supercommittee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime.... The idea that 523 senators and congressmen are going to sit around for four months while 12 brilliant people, mostly picked for political reasons, are going to sit in some room and brilliantly come up with a trillion dollars or force us to choose between gutting our military and accepting a tax increase is irrational.
"They're going to walk in just before Thanksgiving and say, 'All right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg; which do you prefer?'"
By Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, at least seven of the 12 members of Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction must agree on a plan to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
If the committee fails to send the House and Senate a plan to vote on by Dec. 23, automatic "sequestrations" — or cuts — of $1.2 trillion would begin going into effect on that date. About $454 billion of that would come out of the Defense Department budget.
Because any plan the committee comes up with would have to be "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office 48 hours before a committee vote, the actual deadline is Nov. 21. All of this is the product of the agreement between Congress and President Barack Obama announced July 31 to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by $900 billion in return for 10-year budget cuts of $917 billion. The supercommittee was supposed to finish the job.
By now it is painfully obvious that this probably won't happen. The committee is stuck on the fundamental political divide of our time: wealth redistribution.
There has been some movement; Republicans on the supercommittee have agreed to about $300 billion in "revenue enhancements" in the next 10 years. Not tax increases, mind you, but eliminating or capping some tax deductions.
In return, the GOP wants Democrats to agree to make permanent the 2001-2003 tax cuts for the country's wealthiest taxpayers. The top rate on earned income would stay at 35 percent instead of returning to 39.6 percent in 2013. The tax on capital gains and dividend income would stay at 15 percent.
Democrats on the committee won't buy that, nor should they. Cutting taxes in the 2000s produced no new net jobs. The GOP simply is doing what the GOP always has done — protecting its core constituency: corporations and the wealthy.
Meanwhile, supercommittee Democrats are too willing to sell out their constituency. In return for $1.2 trillion in new tax revenue, they've proposed trimming $475 billion over 10 years from Medicare and Medicaid.
But say this: At least the Democrats are serious about finding a solution. The GOP is going with what so far has worked for them: Wait for the Democrats to cave.
Polls show Americans are more fed up with Congress than ever. They're increasingly aware of the vast inequalities in income and opportunity. If the supercommittee deal blows up — and it very well may — Republicans may come to regret it.